Stock markets mixed ahead of Greece talks


World stock markets were mixed today, as encouraging signs about the US economy were tempered by investors' fears that time was running out for Greece to fix its debt crisis.

Oil prices hovered below 103 dollars per barrel. The dollar rose against the euro but fell against the yen.

European shares fell in early trade. Britain's FTSE 100 lost 0.2% to 5,689.47, Germany's DAX fell 0.6% to 6,128.62 and France's CAC-40 was down 0.9% to 3,217.26.

Wall Street was set to open lower, with Dow Jones industrial futures down 0.6% at 12,217.56 and S&P 500 futures slipping marginally to 1,271.10.

Greece's prime minister was scheduled to hold talks later in the day with labour unions and trade federations.

The meetings come a day after the government warned that Greece might have to leave the euro if the country fails to reach an agreement over a 130 billion euro (£108.5 billion) emergency bailout being offered by international lenders, and that more austerity measures may be needed.

Asian stocks ended the day with gains, following a strong session on Wall Street. Japan's Nikkei 225 showed renewed life as it posted a 1.2% gain to 8,560.11. The battered benchmark lost nearly 20% of its value in 2011 - a year marred by the tsunami and nuclear plant disaster, made all the more difficult by record-high levels for the yen.

Japanese exporters rose amid signs the US economy is on the mend - good news for companies which depend on sales to the world's number one economy. Toyota jumped 3.1%, Honda soared 4.1% and Yamaha added 3.4%. Nikon gained 2.2% and Fujitsu gained 3.5%.

Elsewhere, Australia's S&P ASX 200 rose 2.1% to 4,187.80. Markets in Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, New Zealand and the Philippines also rose.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index and South Korea's Kospi slipped after strong gains a day earlier. The Hang Seng fell 0.8% to 18,727.31, while the Kospi was down 0.5% at 1,866.22.

Wall Street opened the year with a bang following the release of positive US economic data.

The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index for December rose to 53.9 from November's 52.7, with readings above 50 indicating expansion. Factories hired more workers in December, saw the most growth in new orders since April and ramped up production.

Other data showed the struggling construction industry on firmer footing, with US builders spending more in November on single-family homes, apartments and remodelling projects.

The strong reports correspond with other positive signs for the economy, including rising consumer confidence and a drop in unemployment benefit applications.

“The US continues to grow fairly earnestly in spite of turmoil in Europe. Yesterday's (manufacturing) report was especially encouraging,” analysts at DBS Bank in Singapore said in a research note.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1.5% to 12,397.38, its highest close in more than five months. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 1.5% at 1,277.06 and the Nasdaq closed up 1.7% at 2,648.72.

A jump in commodity prices, which often follow stock prices, helped metals and mining shares. In Australia, OZ Minerals gained 4.1% and Fortescue Metals Group jumped 4.8%, uranium miner Paladin Energy gained 3.6%, and BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, soared 4.1%.

Benchmark crude for February delivery fell 16 cents to 102.80 dollars per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 4.13 dollars to finish at 102.96 dollars per barrel on the Nymex yesterday.

In currency trading, the euro fell to 1.3037 dollars from 1.3056 dollars in New York late yesterday. The dollar was lower at 76.65 yen from 76.67 yen.


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